Ask the Master Gardener: Moon gardens can be mesmerizing

Answer: Moon gardens tend to be monochromatic. They usually fall into the realm of an all-white garden. A moon garden is meant to be enjoyed by the light of the moon or evening. It is intended to be a peaceful spot to rest, relax and appreciate celestial beauty. A moon garden design has plants with white flowers and silvery foliage that reflect light from the setting sun and rising moon. Reds, blues and other deep colors seem to disappear at dusk, but whites and silvers really pop in even the slightest amount of moonlight. This garden typically has fragrant, nocturnal blooming flowers, which attract nighttime pollinators, like the sphinx moth.

When COVID-19 is behind us and people are traveling more, there are three all-white gardens worth visiting. The Sissinghurst Castle Gardens, in Kent, England has the most famous all-white garden. It was designed by Vita Sackville-West in the 1950s. The Munsinger-Clemens Gardens in St. Cloud have an all-white garden that was first planted in the summer of 1994, and was inspired by the world-renowned White Garden at Sissinghurst Castle. Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, which was the home of Pierre Dupont, also has an all-white garden. White gardens have many advantages besides trendiness. Bright white blooms are real eye-catchers. A white garden usually has a sense of crispness, class, sophistication, and elegance. Additionally, in a shade garden, white brightens up the darkness of shade during the day and comes alive at dusk.

Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, with its all-white, monochromatic flowers, is an example of a moon garden.
Contributed / Jennifer Knutson

A color themed garden is one of the easiest and most rewarding designs you can do. A white garden is an easy way for beginners to try a monochromatic scheme because most species seem to have white flowers. A monochromatic scheme is less distracting — the eye doesn’t need to constantly refocus on ever-changing color. In a monochromatic garden, the visual excitement that usually comes from different colors instead comes from the interplay of various flower forms and foliage textures; therefore, it’s important to incorporate different flower and leaf shapes.

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Dear Master Gardener: I have trouble with chipmunks. Is there a repellent or something I can use to keep them from damaging my gardens?

Answer: Chipmunks are so cute! However, many of us would rather not have to deal with them in our gardens. Not only do these cute little rodents damage gardens, but they can also cause structural damage to stairs, retaining walls or foundations from all their extensive burrowing. They scurry around the yard gathering and hoarding food for the winter — usually seeds and nuts. Have you ever seen a sunflower coming up in your flower pot or garden, or bulbs you planted in one place coming up in another? A chipmunk or squirrel is the probable culprit. My sister-in-law had an unidentified plant coming up in the miniature garden by her front door. It looked like it should be in a “Jack in the Beanstalk” story. She left it there all summer as it made for great conversation and looked kind of magical.

To keep them from digging up newly planted bulbs in the fall, chicken wire or hardware cloth can be placed on top of the area. You just have to remember to remove it in the spring after the snow is gone. You can hide the chicken wire with soil or mulch. If you are planting bulbs in individual holes, such as lilies, place some sharply crushed stones or shells in each hole before refilling to deter their digging. You can even find bags of them in garden centers for that purpose.

Related: Ask the Master Gardener: Brighten the dark of winter with these indoor plants

Fallen bird seed from feeders also attracts chipmunks and squirrels, so if you have a bird feeder in your garden, that could encourage them. Try to keep bird feeders at least fifteen feet from your garden. Keeping your grass cut short may also help, so they are not provided cover and will hopefully burrow somewhere else.

According to Professor Perry at the University of Vermont, taste repellents that are used for squirrels can also be used for chipmunks and may be a good first line of defense. Unfortunately, like all animal repellents for the garden, it needs to be reapplied after a rain, so it can be expensive over time and generally doesn’t provide complete control. Trapping is an effective means of control. Many people prefer using a live-catch wire mesh trap, then dropping them off somewhere else so they don’t return. Depending on where you drop them off, you could be transporting the pesky little problems to someone else. According to the Minnesota DNR, if you relocate a captured wild animal, you must take it 10-15 miles away from where it was captured to ensure that it doesn’t return. You must also get permission from the governing agency or landowner of the property before releasing the animal.

Related: Ask the Master Gardener: Aloe plants offer benefits aside from their beauty

Dear Master Gardener: Which plants are toxic to dogs and should be avoided in the landscape?

Answer: There are a number of common garden plants that are toxic to cats and/or dogs. Many bulbs, such as daffodils, crocus, gladiola, hyacinth, iris, scilla (squill), and tulips, are poisonous to both humans and animals. The ASPCA lists the following landscape plants as the most poisonous for cats and dogs: azaleas and rhododendrons, yew, autumn crocus, chrysanthemum, English ivy, and castor bean (very toxic!). Lilies are toxic to cats.

Related: Ask the Master Gardener: Caring for colorful cyclamen plants

You may get your garden questions answered by calling the new Master Gardener Help Line at 218-824-1068 and leaving a message. A master gardener will return your call. Or, emailing me at [email protected] and I will answer you in the column if space allows.
University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardeners are trained and certified volunteers for the University of Minnesota Extension. Information given in this column is based on university research.


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